I noted some years ago (2002,
that Geography Awareness Week had gone dark and this year, alas, seems
the same. The link
off the Geography Action page at National Geographic that deals with
this annual event includes just a paragraph. It reads:
"In 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing
the third week in November as Geography Awareness Week (GAW). Every
year since then, the National Geographic Society has promoted the
importance of geography to the public and to schools throughout the
United States and in Canada during Geography Awareness Week."
The link that follows, which promises resources, events and more, is
dead. The correct URL does
indeed list events. Strangely, the "events by state" link does not
include a map. Sigh. The proclamation available to proclaim
(pdf) the event in a particular geography is dated 2006.
Now, I'll quickly acknowledge that keeping up a website for an annual
event is a challenge. And, I know National Geographic has woven
Geography Awareness Week into the annual Geography Action initiative. I
like that idea; I like that Geography Awareness Week is now part of the
"everyday of each year" effort to educate about the discipline. It's
not just a special time when, for a few days, we focus on this way of
looking at the world.
Things have changed since that first Geography Awareness Week. In 1987
I was in grad school at Penn State. We took groups of elementary (I
think) students through the halls and tried to introduce them to our
field of study. Mostly, if I remember, they looked at paper maps and
felt the bumps on the plastic topo map that covered the wall outside
the department office. I recall thinking that what we grad students and
those youngsters had in common was quite limited.
Spin forward 20 years. I feel confident that today I could have an
intelligent conversation with such a school-aged student, who has
Internet access, about the wonders of online mapping apps. Or if not
that, online or multi-player games that take place in full 3D
environments. I'm sure those students could teach me quite a bit about
Second Life and FaceBook and tracking their friends, all of which have
some degree of geographic reference. Year 2007 Geography Awareness Week
visitors have a very different knowledge base than those of 20 years
My point here is not to demonize events like Geography Awareness Week
or GIS Day or to suggest they be put into storage. Instead, it's to
suggest we stretch them out across the year, to be part of everyday
events, as National Geographic has done. We need to look for "teachable
I believe I heard the term "teachable moment" for the first time when
my friends' children were attending a Montessori school. Dad excused
himself from our conversation to take advantage of such a moment with
his then four-year-old son. He later explained that parents were always
on the lookout for such moments to instill in their children the values
and lessons of their home, community and school.
There's wisdom there, and it translates beyond teaching the very young.
It requires finding opportunities to educate your peers, your clients,
your friends (your friends' kids!) about this wonderful perspective
called geography and the amazing technologies that grow around it,
including GIS, remote sensing, surveying, GPS and others.
I first made this connection between teachable moments and my work when
Steve Fossett disappeared. That weekend I ended up on a 20 mile run
with a high school teacher. She had a million questions for me about
how they'd look for him and where the images came from and what the
plane would look like That's when it struck me that this was a perfect
occasion, if sad, to educate the world about what we and others
involved in geospatial technologies or research do. The recent fires in
California were another, again sad, event that revealed the power of
maps and the new ways they could be made and shared.
I don't know what the next teachable moment for geography and
geospatial technologies will be. I do hope we as a community are ready
to grab it and use it, no matter whether it falls during Geography
Awareness Week or not.